- Sun, 2008-02-10 14:10
I Like Music caught up with DJ Neil Fox aka Foxy to talk about his new show, Forgotten Gems of The Nineties, plus his most interesting interviewees, including Madonna and George Michael.
''I like music because....music has the ability to completely change your mood. If you're feeling down it can lift your spirits, if you're feeling super high then you can play a great song and it can relax you; it can fill you with joy and take you to a whole other place!'' Neil Fox
ILM: So, you have a new show called the Forgotten Gems of The Nineties. How did that all come about? Can you give us an example of one or two forgotten gems?
Foxy: Forgotten gems are those records that don't get played really. The 90s was a pretty good decade for pop. For a lot of that time I was doing the charts so I know a lot of them really well. A good one would be 'Crazy' by Seal. You don't hear it that often! You listen to it and think that's a cracker! There are so many and they just don't get played. You hear 80s and a bit of naff 70s dance, but 90s doesn't get played as much, perhaps it just hasn't got old enough yet.
We play quite a few of these at Magic, we play Seal and another good one like Black Velvet by Alana Miles, which is quite moody...and there are lots of them and we have lots of stories for them. It came about because of my work at Magic and we've got our own TV station now, so the two are beginning to work closer together- Magic is becoming bigger! I love doing these shows, we have a very good time filming it in a nice club in Soho, by a big fireplace in a nice comfy chair! I mean, I adore music and it's nice to dig out gems and the whole crew got involved too.
ILM: You have interviewed lots of people, George Michael and a host of other stars. Are there any that stand out to you when you look back? Who has inspired you the most? Also do you have any funny anecdotes?
Foxy: George has always been brilliant. He is very intelligent and articulate and very good value. Madonna has always been fun to interview as well because....well...she's Madonna! And she is a legend. I do rememeber doing an interview with her where we were waiting for her in her suite in a Paris hotel and I was sitting on the toilet in her suite. My producer was laughing because I had my trousers round my ankles and we were saying how my bottom had touched where Madonna's bottom had been and we were laughing and being very silly and then she walked in!
That was a hard one to explain really! We did just explain what we were doing and she found it very amusing and it broke the ice brilliantly! We had a great conversation after that and Madonna has a wicked sense of humour. She is quite naughty as you can imagine! Naughty/mucky! Madonna is good fun. I look forward to interviewing her again, she is just an icon.
I have pretty much interviewed everyone - all my heroes in a way - but there's one person I haven't interviewed - I would have loved to have interviewed - Elvis! I think he's the greatest of all time - my little boy Jack - his middle name is Presley - after Elvis - that would have been fantastic. We did mock up an interview of what it would sound like. We found a really old interview with Elvis and I re-asked the questions and did it in a chart stylee from when he was number one and that was really surreal listening to it.
We changed my voice around so it sounded old as well and it was freaky listening to it back. It's the closest i'll ever get of course! We were meant to be doing an interview with Michael Jackson when he was massive. We were going to be the next lot to interview him after Oprah Winfrey, but that interview backfired. I can't remember why. I think it was because it was so contrived. He knew every question and knew his answers and the media reaction to it was bad, so ours was cancelled. I would have loved to have done an interview with him. I was looking forward to just going and asking him some really normal questions. I mean, he was only two years older than me and his life and my life could not be more different!
I wanted to see if I could learn anything about him, to find out what type of human being he was. Whether it was all a big image, this madness, or whether he really was barking, or whether it was just a really clever marketing ploy. I wanted to find out. I had heard so many conflicting stories from people that know him or had spent time with him. Pete Waterman tells some fascinating stories about Jackson, he helped do some engineering and producing, weirdly on the Thriller album. They are just incredible stories, hysterical. But no, that hasn't happened yet...but there is still time!
ILM: You've been in the music business for some time, you've obviously followed your dreams. What advice would you give to young people on following their dreams to get the career they want?
Foxy: The best advice is to try and work out what you really want to do. Then work out what qualifications the people who are already doing that job have. Not necessarily academic, but what have they done to get there? Maybe you will have to try a bit of work experience. Understand that the really good jobs will require you to put in a bit of graft - maybe to start with you'll have to work for free, I did. Learn as much as you can about it, the people that do it, how they got into it and how you can get into it. There are a lot of great jobs out there and you won't be the only person wanting to do it, especially in the entertainment business.
A lot of people see the bright lights and the glamour and the fame and fortune and they forget that anyone who has made it, or most people that have made it, have had to graft really hard. Although you watch X factor and shows like that and see the instant fame, most people have had to work really hard to get where they are. I mean, you watch X Factor and Pop Idol and they get criticised for being this fast track to fame, but the reality was that the people who had won it had all trying for a few years to make it. They had all been to stage school or drama classes or singing classes and tried to get as much experience as possible.
Even though the show gave them the break, it wasn't as if they had walked out their bedroom into the studio. They had been banging on that door for a long time. It was a vehicle for them. Leona, for example, had been trying for a long time to make it and all the experience and training she got finally paid off.
She had that experinece under her belt. I think that same thing applies to any job that you want to do. Do extra training, get experience and be prepared to go and get it. It might take you years, but if you want it bad enough you will get it. That's what I did. I realised I wanted to be a DJ and so I got experience on my Uni radio show. I did a normal job once I graduated but worked for free at my local radio station, doing anything I could. After putting away records they eventually asked me if I wanted to go on air to help out and that's how I got my foot in the door.
ILM: A few years ago you stopped doing the famous radio countdown. Since then what have been the main highlights for you career wise?
Foxy: There is no doubt that doing the Pepsi chart was great fun. Before we started the chart had always been done in the Radio One way - here's 40 songs and we will count them down. When we started, Radio one had four times as many listeners as us - so we had a challenge on our hands! We decided we needed to do it differently and we decided that we would make it more personality led, more fun. It worked brilliantly. In a couple of years we had the same numbers as them and then, in another few years, we beat them.
I did it for nearly 11 years and we changed the way charts were done in this country, you know, more personal, chats on the phone to artists and competitions. People can then have more interaction. Radio One wasn't the chart to listen to anymore and me on the Pepsi chart was! Lots of people have grown up listening to me. In many respects I miss doing it. When I started I was a single man and, by the end, I was a dad with a couple of kids!
It changes things on a Sunday aftrenoon, because you want to be with your family. But I loved it! I'm lucky, there were lots of highlights! I've moved to Magic and we were the number one radion station in London and my breakfast show became the number one breakfast show in London, which was the first time that I had been a number one breakfast DJ. It was fantastic! I was incredibly chuffed for the whole team. It was a small team, but we all worked really hard and I was chuffed for the station as it really put it on the map. But my greatest achievement is that I go to work every day and I still love it, I'm a very lucky man!
Now there are the new download charts I just don't think it's the same. I think they have just ruined it. I don't think the commercial radio or Radio One are doing a very good job with it. It's become dull and it used to be an event. And, to be fair, when Mark Goodyear was doing the chart for Radio One, there was a really good battle between Mark and myself - between us we had about 8 or 9 million listeners - massive! He did a great job too.
Now the shows, if you look at the figures, they are appalling, they are just another show. It's a shame because a lot of kids just dont listen to the chart. It's not a part of their lives. They have just killed it and let it go. It's such a shame, it's criminal really. People say it's because of downloads etc. People are just as interested in music as they ever have been, the only thing that's changed is how they buy their music.
People are still buying it, just in a different way! People still want to hear the biggest songs of the week. The download chart and the sales charts are very similar. I think people use that idea as an excuse; the reality is that it's not a good radio show. It's sad. Part of me wants to go back and do it. To make Sunday afternoon an event, that's what I think charts should be.
ILM: You mentioned Pop Idol. Now, when it first started you were on the judging panel. Can you share any amusing moments with us from behind the scenes?
Foxy: The thing I always rememeber about Pop Idol was that Pete, Simon, myself and Nicky laughed a lot. We really did laugh a lot. I had red marks on the side of my nose from where I used to pinch the side of my nose to stop laughing, because some of the auditionees were just so bad! I used to weep with laughter! I always felt it was rude to laugh; you know they are trying their best!
You don't want to look up and see someone laughing their head off at you, but some were awful! There was one where I just lost it. I remember the poor fellow was doing Eye of the Tiger and there was this infamous clip that went round the internet where I just wept with laughter.
There were quite a few where that happened! His name was Warren and he was a really nice guy. I felt like I had been caught out! Simon and I used to pass each other notes all the time about people that came in, silly notes, particularly about girls! There were a lot of girls who tried to get through basically by wearing next to no clothing and Simon and I had to be separated in the end! It was really good fun! I look back with absolute affection. There was a humour that the panel had that I would say the X factor panel now doesn't, but it has become a different show and it's still very successful.
ILM: If you weren't a DJ what would be your second career choice?
Foxy: Astronaut. That is still what I would do! I mean, I'm 46, I watched people walk on the moon, I remember my parents woke me up so I could watch it in the middle of the night. As a kid I was blown away and I still am! I've been fascinated watching space ever since then. I dream of going to space. I love flying with a passion, I fly helicopters. When I'm up there I feel a tremendous peace. If I didn't do that I'd be an architect.